When Garrett Hartley kicked a 40-yard field goal straight down the middle to beat the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday’s NFC Championship game, it not only lifted the New Orleans Saints into their first ever Super Bowl, but also restored the faith of a city, still struggling to recover from loss and tragedy. In the past four years, celebrations were few and far between for both the team and its long-suffering fans. New Orleans was ravaged by the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leaving the city shattered and most of its inhabitants in a state of chaos.
Among the displaced were the Saints, whose Superdome had been transformed into a makeshift shelter.
This left the team with the unenviable task of having to play away from home for most of the season, culminating in a 3-13 record.
However, memories of this dark period were seemingly erased as fans poured onto Bourbon Street united in their passion for their team.
ESPN reported that a record 82 percent of viewers in the Big Easy tuned into the championship game.
On the campus of Grambling State University alone, chants of the Saints’ rally cry “Who Dat?” echoed as students partied well into the night.
Facebook statuses were replete with congratulatory messages and many came to class draped in replica jerseys or anything with scraps of black and gold.
While almost all of the students here are too young to remember the days of the Saints as the “Aints,” brown paper bag wearing fans, and images of the legendary Archie Manning being savaged by tacklers, many are New Orleans natives who know the deeper meaning behind the overtime victory.
“It means everything,” enthused freshman drafting and design major Torey Barnes.
“We came a long way from Katrina with all this rebuilding. It was amazing. I cried and I am definitely going to Miami.”
His roommate Ryan Jackson, a kinesiology major also from New Orleans, was equally emotional.
“It brought everybody together back at home, especially those who were down.”
Jackson reminisced about his childhood days of tailgating every Sunday and expressed his plans to support his team in Miami.
One of his most telling statements referred to the famed Bourbon Street, known equally for its debauchery as well as its celebratory mood.
“It was crazy, but clean fun. There was no violence. They’re probably still out there.”
Senior mass communication major Jeremy Mims hails from Baton Rouge and is a lifelong Saints fan. He likened the victory to a holiday: “I celebrated like it was New Year’s and my birthday all rolled into one.”
The experience was almost a rebirth led by “Breesus,” a popular name for prolific quarterback Drew Brees, widely regarded as the savior of the franchise. Mims, who has family in New Orleans, summed it up best with his assessment. “It was needed to uplift not only New Orleans, but the state of Louisiana. Now we have something to be really proud of.